Field Research Report on Lao PDR (Najung KIM)

From September 11 to 22, 2017, I participated in the field research in Lao PDR as part of Kobe University’s MEXT/UNESCO Project on Ensuring Sustainable Financing for Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), under the lead of Professor Keiichi Ogawa. I assisted Professor Ogawa in the data and document collection through interviews with the Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES), provincial and district education offices and kindergarten teachers in urban and rural areas of Vientian Capital, Vientiance Province, and Bolikhamzai Province.

It was my very first field research experience in developing country, and I didn’t know how exactly to prepare myself, other than familiarizing myself with questionnaires listed in the research framework. Once I was put on the field, I realized there was so much more to field research than what I had learned in classrooms.

Early childhood education in Laos: Still much to be done, yet progressing
Throughout our field visits, these were two thoughts lingering in my mind; there is still much work that needs to be done to improve ECCE in this country, but there are clear signs of positive developments. As focus of our research is on financing of ECCE, we took a close look at government investment committed to ECCE. We learned that the government provides block grants to public kindergartens according to the number of children enrolled. As of yet, the amount is deemed insufficient but we noted movements to increase government expenditure and other support for further development of ECCE in Laos.

Learning from the best: An on-the-job training about the ins and outs of field research
As we know, Professor Ogawa has worn many different hats throughout his career – as the World Bank Education Economist, JICA Advisor, Consultant at numerous international organizations and Professor at GSICS and George Washington University where I met him, and many more. I have thought that I could understand the depth of his expertise through taking his courses in classrooms and through his publications. But seeing him in action on the field has proven me hopelessly wrong. Observing at very close proximity the way his operates on the field revealed his yet another strength that I hadn’t learned about. He was remarkably effective in arranging meetings during our limited time in Laos, he knew what to add and remove from the previously prepared questionnaires depending on the realities on the ground, and he was immensely sensitive and respectful to the local work ethics and culture. In addition to his seasoned professionalism, I saw how he connects with local government officials from national to small district offices and even with teachers in kindergarten classrooms with his unique humane and delightful interpersonal skills.

Photo taken at Saysamphone Kindergarten, Xaitani District, Vientiane Capital City

Rediscovering the value of our zemi: Great coach, great teammates
Two weeks is a relatively short period of time but it was more than enough to rediscover the value of our zemi (seminar). First, we have an excellent coach, Professor Ogawa, who consistently exposes us to various opportunities which, more often than not, involves taking the risk on his part. During this field research, he allowed me to take the lead in some interviews which presented a valuable hands-on field research experience for me. By doing so, he took the risk for my potential mistakes, while staying alert to steer me the right direction as soon as I drifted off track, presenting a very important quality of a great coach.

Another pleasant realization that I had was that we have many alumni working in the field, that are already in positions and have built the expertise to support us when we cross paths. During this project, we received great support from our former zemi students that are currently based in Laos and Professor Ogawa also organized a reunion gathering where his former zemi students and current zemi students conducting internships in Laos were invited, providing us with a great opportunity to rekindle our network.

I give sincere thanks to Professor Ogawa and I hope that we will continue to learn and grow together under the lead of Professor Ogawa and along with great teammates that are both on campus and out in the field.

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Authored by Najung Kim (Doctoral Student)